News If all you need is a MacBook Air, get a Chromebook

The MacBook Air is an overpriced web browser. There, I said it. I don’t want to go in this direction, but after reading about the Apple M2 MacBook Air for six months, I can’t help it anymore.

Most people who get a MacBook Air don’t really need it. If all you do is check email, write docs, play Excel or Google Sheets, and watch YouTube, you can save money—because all you need is a Chromebook.

When to Buy a MacBook Pro

The MacBook Air has a very specific target market, but that shouldn’t include those who need a lot of power. If you need a machine to do more than you typically do in a web browser, like editing video, building software, or playing games, the MacBook Air won’t be for you.

think about it. The MacBook Air lacks the active cooling of the MacBook Pro, has slower read/write speeds, and has a less accurate display.

The latest model of the MacBook Air features Apple’s own M2 chip, touted as the successor to the groundbreaking M1 but lackluster in terms of actual performance gains. Here are the rest of the specs:

  • Octa-core CPU (four performance cores and four efficiency cores)
  • Octa-core GPU
  • 16-core Neural Engine
  • 13.6 inch LED display
  • 60 Hz refresh rate
  • 8 GB or 16 GB DDR5 RAM (6400 MHz)
MacBook Air keyboard.

It’s a decent machine for most web-based activities. You’ll love watching Netflix on it. However, keep in mind that you’re paying $1,199 for the privilege of watching the movie on the LED screen.

On the other hand, the 2021 MacBook Pro lineup gives you serious productivity and one of the best screens on the market. The M1 Pro and M1 Max chips are beasts that compete with the best from Intel and AMD.

  • M1 Pro eight-core, M1 Max ten-core
  • The M1 Pro has a 14-core GPU and the M1 Max has a 16-core GPU
  • The M1 Pro has a 14-inch LCD XDR display and the M1 Max has a 16-inch XDR display
  • Both displays can hit a 120Hz refresh rate
  • 16 GB or 32 GB DDR5 RAM (6400 MHz)

As you can see, you’re getting a machine that doubles or even triples the performance of the base M2 MacBook Air — especially when it comes to graphics. The 14-inch MacBook Pro costs $2,100, while the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max chip starts at $3,100.

An Apple MacBook Pro 14 open on a table.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

These are expensive machines, enough to make you move to the MacBook Air. But remember, these are performance machines, designed for people who need this kind of power. Most people won’t, and everything you can do on a MacBook Air can also be done on a much cheaper Chromebook.

Highlights of Chromebooks

There’s a reason schools around the world are flocking to Chromebooks for their students. These machines are simple to use, require no programming skills, and they are incredibly resilient. Best of all, they’re affordable.

A Chromebook started out as just a laptop with the Google Chrome browser installed. They’ve come a long way in the past decade, and you can now find Chromebooks with the fastest processors and OLED screens. There are premium options out there, like the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook, even if most people can live with a midrange Chromebook.

They shine because they do everything you want them to do. You can write emails, prepare documents, organize your Google Drive and photos, send and receive messages, browse the web and watch videos. Thanks to cloud gaming, you can even play games on these things. Again – everything most people do with their expensive MacBook Air.

A Lenovo Chromebook on a brick floor.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

ChromeOS, which powers Chromebooks, is a smooth and easy-to-use interface, and due to its simplicity, it’s virtually virus-free. Plus, if you already have an Android phone or watch, you can sync them with your Chromebook. Now you can send text messages directly from your laptop, as well as use Android apps and games.

Many Chromebooks even include things you won’t see on any Mac, like a touchscreen and a foldable keyboard that converts the whole thing into a tablet. There are many different Chromebooks to choose from, but a typical mid-range Chromebook looks like this:

  • Quad-core Intel Celeron processor
  • Intel HD Graphics
  • 13.5-inch LCD display (1080p)
  • 16GB DDR4 memory

These simple specs don’t sound impressive, but running on ChromeOS is much smoother than on a Windows or Mac laptop. Best of all, they’re powerful enough to do everything you need on the web — and fast.

Excitingly, you’ll get all of this for less than $500. If you really need more power from your laptop, you’re honestly not going to buy a MacBook Air anyway.

it’s time to be honest with yourself

The screen of the MacBook Air M2.

There are two compelling reasons to spend over $1,000 on a MacBook Air: macOS and the Apple ecosystem.

Start with MacOS. It’s a slick and user-friendly interface where most of the technical aspects are hidden. ChromeOS availability is about the same these days, but I can understand that some people really, really like MacOS and are very happy with the software.

This includes Apple’s own first-party apps such as Safari and the venerable Notes. You might even want to get into things like music production or video editing, which are features that Apple offers out of the box. Even if the MacBook Air isn’t the best choice for creative professionals, it’s good enough for enthusiasts who just want to tinker with those creative apps.

Are macOS and iMessage really worth $700?

These apps are also connected to the Apple ecosystem. If you’re already using an iPhone, the MacBook Air might be a better fit. The MacBook really opened up the ecosystem, from Airdrop to Focus mode to iMessage on the desktop.

But is MacOS and iMessage worth $700 to you? For most people, this doesn’t make much sense, especially if you do most of your computing in a web browser.

Back view of the HP Elite Dragonfly Chromebook showing the cover and logo.
Mark Coppock/Digital Trends

Which brings us back to Chromebooks. If you use a lot of Google products, such as Gmail, Google Photos, and Google Drive, you’ll get the same ecosystem-like synchronization that Apple does. While most people in the US and Canada use iMessage, most of the rest of the world uses third-party chat apps, such as WhatsApp, which you can use on any device. That means installing iMessage on your laptop might not be a big deal to you.

At the end of the day, though, a Chromebook is just a lot cheaper than a MacBook Air — and honestly, it probably does the same thing for the same price. If you’re strongly considering buying a MacBook Air, it’s time to get honest about what you’re actually using the laptop for.

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